Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of certain types of tick. It’s a multisystem illness, meaning it can affect a number of different areas in the body. It shares symptoms with many other infections, so it can be difficult to diagnose.
The most clearly identifiable sign of the disease is the erythema migrans rash at the site of the tick bite. Nevertheless, it can also appear elsewhere on the body. The rash has a circular shape and is observed in approximately 70–80% of people shortly after contracting the illness. It usually begins as a small red area, which gradually expands. It often loses its colour in the centre, giving it the appearance of a bull’s eye. It’s neither painful nor itchy, although it can feel warm to the touch.
Other possible early symptoms include headaches, fatigue, fever and facial palsy. Later, the illness may lead to joint pain, eye problems, cognitive impairment and heart symptoms. Although there are lab tests that can help identify the antibodies produced in reaction to the bacteria, these are often unreliable.
The earlier Lyme disease is discovered, the easier it is to cure with antibiotics. As the illness progresses, it may become more and more difficult to treat effectively.
When and Where You May Encounter Ticks
Ticks thrive in moist and humid conditions. You should be particularly cautious when visiting a woodland or moorland. However, there’s also a risk of tick bite in some urban parks and gardens. Whenever possible, keep to paths and avoid walking through deep vegetation. You should also cover yourself up as much as possible and use an insect repellent with the active ingredient DEET on your skin, and the insecticide permethrin on your clothing. Once you get home, thoroughly check yourself, your children and any pets that were with you for ticks!
Rates of infection are the highest between April and September, because ticks are the most active when the weather is warm. However, you shouldn’t disregard the risk of being bitten by ticks during cooler months.
Year-Round Lyme Disease Awareness
May is Lyme Awareness Month, but it’s important to take care when walking in forests or any piece of land with tall grass throughout the year.
Over the course of the past decade, there has been a rise in Lyme disease cases. Climate is one of the most important factors impacting the prevalence of the infection.
Climate change may accelerate and prolong ticks’ developmental cycle. Milder winters and warmer summers can also boost egg production and population density. High-risk areas may also become broader and broader as temperatures increase. Furthermore, environmental changes can also lead to a better availability of host animals and therefore feeding opportunities. This means more ticks are going to survive and complete their life cycle, resulting in ever-increasing numbers of offspring.
As the growing number of ticks infect more and more host animals, future generations of ticks will become infected at higher and higher rates themselves. Consequently, animals and humans alike will be at an increasingly greater risk of being exposed to the bacteria. Therefore, the number of annual Lyme disease cases is likely to further increase in the coming years, even during historically cooler seasons.
What to Do If You Have Been Bitten by a Tick
If you have been bitten by a tick, you should remove it promptly and carefully using fine-point tweezers. Take hold of it as close to the skin as possible and gently pull it out in one piece without twisting it! After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the skin around the bite area with alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water.
It’s a good idea to place the tick in the freezer inside a sealed container. If you develop any symptoms, you should take it to your medical appointment, as it may help your doctor when assessing your illness.
It’s normal for a small red bump to appear at the site of the tick bite. However, if it develops into a rash that begins to grow in size, you may have contracted Lyme disease. Schedule a visit to the doctor as soon as possible if this happens, even if the signs and symptoms disappear.
You should also see a doctor if you didn’t have a rash after being bitten, and even if you don’t recall being bitten at all, if you develop flu-like symptoms shortly after visiting a wooded or grassy area. Make a comprehensive list of your symptoms and how long you’ve had them to aid any diagnosis! You will also be asked if you take any medication, vitamins and supplements.